Pastor Jamal Bryant calls pastors to form ‘prayer wall’ against racism amid Ahmaud Arbery trial

Jamal Bryant, senior pastor of New Birth Missionary Baptist Church, speaks during the "Commitment March: Get Your Knee Off Our Necks" protest against racism and police brutality, on August 28, 2020, in Washington, D.C. | AFP via Getty Images/Jacquelyn Martin

Jamal Bryant, senior pastor of New Birth Missionary Baptist Church in Georgia, called on pastors from around the country to join him Thursday in forming a “human prayer wall” against racism and injustice at the Glynn County Courthouse, where three white men are standing trial for the 2020 killing of 25-year-old unarmed black man Ahmaud Arbery.

Bryant made the call during a Facebook Live broadcast on Saturday in the wake of an attorney for one of the accused saying in court last week that “we don’t want any more black pastors coming in here.”

“This coming Thursday,  at 11 o’clock we’re going to form a human prayer wall around that court building for justice to prevail, for racism not to be able to reign victorious,” Bryant said. “To let that family know that they will not be living in fear, to let that community know that if God be for you, who can be against you.’”

While noting he had no problems with civil rights leaders like The Rev. Al Sharpton, defense attorney Kevin Gough argued in court last Thursday that Sharpton’s presence or the presence of other high-profile black ministers in the courtroom could “consciously or unconsciously … pressure or influence the jury” against his client.

His client, William “Roddie” Bryan Jr., is being tried for Arbery’s murder, along with 65-year-old Gregory McMichael and 35-year-old Travis McMichael. Arbery was fatally shot while jogging in Glynn County on Feb. 23, 2020.

Defense attorney Kevin Gough addresses the court during the trial for Ahmaud Arbery’s shooting death at the Glynn County Courthouse on Nov. 8, 2021 in Brunswick, Georgia. | Getty Images/Sean Rayford

“If we’re going to start a precedent that started yesterday, we’re going to bring high profile members of the African American community in the courtroom to sit with the family during the trial in the presence of the jury. I believe that’s intimidating, and it’s an attempt to pressure — could be consciously or unconsciously — an attempt to pressure or influence the jury,” Gough argued.

“To my knowledge, Rev. Sharpton has no church in Glynn County. He never has. … We don’t want any more black pastors coming in here or other — Jesse Jackson, whoever was in here earlier this week —  sitting with the victim’s family trying to influence a jury in this case,” he said.

Bryant, a civil rights leader, said he was incensed when he heard the comments.

“The whole thing has been snowballing to show us that we are not in a post-racial society, but that this is still a part of the interwoven fabric of white supremacy that has not reared its head in shame but has heightened it in pride,” Bryant argued.

 “Kevin Gough, last week, shook the conscientious community to its core when he said it’s alright for the family to have a pastor, but something is wrong if we have all of these pastors coming in. … I saw it and I couldn’t believe it. I’m stunned. I’m shocked. I’m dizzied,” Bryant continued. “I am amazed, dumbfounded that he said it in an open courtroom, not in a locker room — [that] no black pastor should be in here — which speaks to the value of the voice of the black church.”

Jesse Jackson arrives at Freddie Gray’s funeral at New Shiloh Baptist Church in Baltimore April 27, 2015. Mourners lined up on Monday before the funeral of Freddie Gray, a Baltimore black man who died in police custody, a death that has led to protests in the latest outcry over U.S. law enforcement’s treatment of minorities. Police say he died of a neck injury on April 19 after being arrested on April 12. | (Photo: Reuters/Sait Serkan Gurbuz)

The megachurch pastor contends that while there are many forces still working to silence the voice of the black church, seeing just how the mere presence of preachers in a courtroom can be seen as intimidating is a testament to their power.

Bryant said he would be joined by Sharpton, Arbery’s family attorney Lee Merritt and attorney Benjamin Crump.

Tempers flared inside the Glynn County Courthouse on Friday when Jackson, who was recently hospitalized, showed up in court to support Arbery’s family, according to the Associated Press.

“There is no reason for these prominent icons in the civil rights movement to be here,” Gough complained, asking Superior Court Judge Timothy Walmsley to have him removed. “With all due respect, I would suggest, whether intended or not, that inevitably a juror is going to be influenced by their presence in the courtroom.”

Gough’s request was denied since courts are generally open to the public.

“The court is not going to single out any particular individual or group of individuals as not being allowed into his courtroom as a member of the public,” Walmsley said. “If there is a disruption, you’re welcome to call that to my attention.”

Arbery’s killing sparked national outrage last year after video of his murder was released and led to the arrest of retired police detective Gregory McMichael and his son, Travis, on charges of murder and aggravated assault. 

The elder McMichael told investigators he thought Arbery, who family said was out jogging, had been involved in burglaries in the Satilla Shores neighborhood where he was killed. Police records show that there was one report of automobile theft in that neighborhood between the start of 2020 and the day Arbery was killed.

Surveillance video shows a man who appears to be Arbery walking down Satilla Drive and into the garage of a house under construction. The man then walks around the back of the house but does not appear to take anything from that house.

Bryant said on Saturday that Arbery was “gunned down akin to a stray dog in the street” even though he was just getting inspiration for the kind of home he wanted to build for himself and his family.

“Ahmaud Arbery, what the news is not telling you, took those mornings to jog and to dream. Because he believed in his own mind that one day, he would be able to build one of these houses that were much like the houses being erected in their community,” he said. “What they are not telling you on the news is that Ahmaud Arbery, after jogging, would go back home and sketch out the houses because he had a picture in his mind of what he wanted to look like and what he wanted his life to look like.”

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